PITTSBURGH — Playing without senior leader and top scorer Ashton Gibbs for the first time this season, Pittsburgh still was able to pull even with Washington State in the College Basketball Invitational championship series.
Talib Zanna scored 14 points as Pitt defeated Washington State 57-53 on Wednesday night to knot the best-of-three series. The Panthers (21-17) and Cougars (19-17) play Game 3 on Friday night at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh for the CBI title.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he wasn’t sure whether Gibbs, an all-Big East honorable mention who has been dealing with a bad ankle all seasons, would be available Friday.
“That ankle has been bothering him all year long,” Dixon said. “It’s both ankles, but the right has been the major source of concern. This game, he just did shootaround and didn’t think he could go.”
Gibbs has averaged 14.6 points and 2.1 assists this season and scored seven points on 2-of-7 shooting Monday in a 67-66 loss at Washington State.
Zanna was a surprising leading scorer for the Panthers. He had scored double digits just four times entering the CBI, yet has scored at least 11 points in four of Pitt’s five CBI games.
Lamar Patterson said the performance shouldn’t be a surprise.
“We expect a lot from Talib,” he said. “He’s one of the strongest players on the team, if not the strongest. Today, he showed he was the strongest on the court.”
Cougars junior Reggie Moore, who scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, tied the game at 49 with two free throws with 1:41 left. Lamar Patterson answered right away with a jumper and Pitt reclaimed the lead.
Patterson scored 12 for Pitt.
DaVonte’ Lacy and Abe Lodwick each scored nine for WSU.
Washington State scored only 20 first-half points, the fewest Pitt had allowed in any half this season, and trailed by nine at the break. But the Panthers went 7:06 in the second half without making a basket, to keep the game close.
After shooting 51.2 percent from the floor and 60 percent from 3-point range on Monday, the Cougars shot 43.6 percent from the floor, and 4 of 13 from 3-point range.
“I think we’re very comfortable in our home arena and I think that probably helped with our shooting (there),” Cougars coach Ken Bone said. “But I felt like Pittsburgh did a great job of guarding Abe and guarding Patrick Simon, guys who hit some 3s the other night.”
The Panthers used an early 13-2 run that included 3-pointers from Tray Woodall, J.J. Moore and John Johnson to grab the lead.
Forward Nasir Robinson, who had made his first 3-pointer of the season Monday, hit his second with 43 seconds left in the first half. That gave Pitt its largest lead of the game, 29-18.
The Panthers are used to playing in the NCAA Tournament, appearing in 10 straight until this season. Robinson said the opportunity to win any tournament crown is one that he didn’t want to pass up.
“We wanted to play in this,” he said. “We could easily have backed out of this tournament, but we wanted to play. Now we want to finish it out and try to get this win.”